Today, the XFL released the schedules for each of its eight teams, as well as its television broadcast schedule. When the NFL releases its schedule each year, analysts and fans can debate strength of schedule, historical rivalries, and other quirks. Because each XFL team is basically an expansion team, we don’t have those kinds of discussion points at our disposal. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to analyze, however. Taking a look at how the Tampa Bay Vipers’ schedule shakes out:
Tampa opens week one on the road against a division foe in New York. It’s no surprise the New York market would get a home game to start the season. It’s a 2pm Sunday start on Fox, the early game of a doubleheader. This rating will be key; we saw how the original XFL dropped after the curiosity factor wore off following week one. After fans sample one or both Saturday games to open the season, how many will be back for more on Sunday? That could be another reason the New York market got that game – the biggest media market means a better chance for a higher retention of viewers.
In week two, the Vipers travel across the country to visit Seattle. If Seahawks fans are any indication, this will be a difficult road matchup. And they do it on less than a full week’s rest, taking the Saturday evening timeslot. The cross-country excursion could be a challenge, but it occurs early enough in the season that the team should still be fresh. This is another Fox ballgame.
Tampa gets its home opener in week three, hosting Houston Saturday afternoon on ABC. This is likely to draw well regardless, but could be dependent upon the momentum of the entire league at this point. If by week three quality of play or ratings are down, fans could start to jump ship (pun intended, considering Raymond James Stadium) before Tampa even plays a home game. Tampa and St. Louis are the last two teams to play at home, both in this third week.
After two straight out of division games, Tampa faces DC, again at home, in prime time on Sunday night on ESPN2. The atmosphere should be raucous for that one. DC may end up the geographical rival of Tampa, at least in the early years, with no other teams close by. St. Louis would be the other contender for that mantle.
At the midway point of the season, Tampa goes back out to the west coast to face Los Angeles. It’s another primetime Sunday night game, this one at 9pm EST. That’s as accommodating as you can expect for a game on the left coast: Sunday night the week before, and Sunday night that week. Routine is important.
The Vipers come all the way back across the country for week six, as they host the BattleHawks. It’s a Saturday, 5pm EST start on FS2. It’s the only time they’re not on one of the major network or cable properties. There’s a lot of shifting of times and stations throughout the season, so you hope ABC/ESPN and Fox do a great job with promotion.
Week seven is the final cross-divisional game of the season when Tampa Bay locks up with Dallas. They’re back in Tampa for this one after being on the road for two weeks. Home cooking will be a relief by then and hopefully for the Vipers, spur them on for the homestretch of the regular season.
It’s the Defenders again in week eight, in DC, Saturday afternoon at 2pm EST on ABC. It’s the first game of week seven, a game that many east division foes will be keeping an eye on. The final three weeks are all interdivisional games, adding importance as teams jockey for playoff spots. There will have been a reasonable four weeks in between DC vs. Tampa contests.
Three weeks after doing battle with St. Louis, Tampa ventures out to Missouri to face them again. Two key divisional games in a row are away. This could be a trouble spot, just as the first two games of the season being away could cause problems.
They wrap up at home against New York, the team they squared off against in the opening weekend. Sunrise, sunset. It’s also the final game of the XFL regular season, so a lot could be on the line in this one, Sunday night on either FS1 of ABC.
Half of Tampa’s games are slated for broadcast networks, ABC or Fox (one more than half if the final game is picked up by ABC). Two games are on ESPN, and one each on ESPN2 and FS2. If Tampa Bay is to become a playoff team, they’ll have to overcome two away games in a row to start the season, and two away games in a row to lead off the important final three weeks of interdivisional slugfests. Other factors will certainly come into play throughout the season, but that’s what I see in digging into the Tampa Bay Vipers 2020 regular season schedule.
Greg Parks is a columnist for Pro Wrestling Torch (pwtorch.com). He covers the XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers for XFLBoard.com. He has written extensively about the XFL. He resides in Naples, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks.